LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe split between two Morehead State defenders, absorbed a bump and with his back to the basket flipped the ball toward the rim.
Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Swish.
Turns out John Wall isn't the only Kentucky youngster who can play.
Bledsoe scored 24 points as No. 4 Kentucky surged past Morehead State 75-59 on Friday night in coach John Calipari's electric debut at Rupp Arena.
Bledsoe was considered an afterthought when the Wildcats signed Wall, considered by many to be the top high school player in the country last year.
Getting the start after Wall was forced to sit out as part of an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits from his AAU coach, Bledsoe dazzled the Eagles with a series of breathtaking plays in the second half that allowed the Wildcats (1-0) to pull away. Bledsoe's point total was the most by a Kentucky freshman in his opening game since Sam Bowie in 1979.
``If John Wall is better than him, wow,' said Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall.
It was the kind of performance that was hardly a surprise to Bledsoe's teammates, who have gotten used to the epic battles Bledsoe and Wall go through during a typical practice.
``Coach tells us he wants us to play like we play in practice and pretty much Eric did that tonight,' said Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson. ``He's a phenomenal basketball player and I can't wait to see what he does the next game.'
Neither can the capacity crowd that gave Bledsoe a standing ovation when he walked off the floor with under 2 minutes remaining. The soft-spoken Bledsoe admitted he felt some pressure starting in place of Wall, but he grew more comfortable as the game wore on.
When Calipari urged Bledsoe to push the tempo after a sluggish first half, he delivered.
``Coach told me just push it, they're getting tired, they're starting to get fatigued, so just push it down their throat,' Bledsoe said.
During one sequence in the second half, Bledsoe fed a streaking Patterson for a lay-up, then followed a few moments later with a breathtaking coast-to-coast dash for another easy basket.
The best, however, came on that improbable flip over his head that pushed Kentucky's lead to 56-39 with 7:59 remaining. Even Bledsoe isn't quite sure how he did it.
``I don't know what happened. I just threw the ball up,' Bledsoe said.
They're the kind of plays Calipari expects from Bledsoe no matter who is on the floor.
``He's just a gamer,' Calipari said. ``One of the guys said to me 'he's tired,' and I said, 'I know but he's better than most guys that are fresh, so I'll leave him in.''
Bledsoe was fresh enough to help the Wildcats avoid the kind of massive early season letdown that plagued former coach Billy Gillispie's tumultuous two-year tenure.
There would be no Gardner-Webb or VMI. Not this time.
Kentucky made Calipari the highest paid coach in the country to restore the program to greatness, and although he said before the game he wouldn't be surprised or particularly upset if the Wildcats opened 0-5 as long as they kept getting better, there was little doubt how much his first night as the coach of college basketball's all-time winningest program meant.
He stomped, he pleaded, he cajoled. He called a 30-second time-out after Morehead State's Kenneth Faried dunked to pull the Eagles within 52-39 with about 9 minutes left, and slammed his fist a couple of times while urging his team to go play ball.
Kentucky won despite turning the ball over 24 times and making just four of 19 3-pointers. Calipari can live with the growing pains as the Wildcats try to master his dribble-drive offense as long as his team plays with the kind of energy it showed while holding the Eagles to 38 percent shooting while outrebounding them 43-24.
Bledsoe wasn't the only star. Patterson scored 20 points - including his first career 3-pointer - to go with 12 rebounds, and Darnell Dodson scored 15 points as Kentucky zoomed past Morehead State after a sluggish first half.
Faried led Morehead State (0-1) with 17 points, but the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions couldn't keep up even with Wall sitting on the bench.
Miami won't have that luxury on Monday, and when asked what he and Wall could do on the court while playing at the same time, Bledsoe just shook his head.
``Me and John we just attack the rim at all times,' he said. ``We just attack.'
The Associated Press News Service
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